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Amy Brown headshot

Congressional Leaders Revive Legislation Aimed at Justice for Black Farmers

By Amy Brown
young woman using data for farming - justice for black farmers

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) reintroduced the Justice for Black Farmers Act earlier this week in a renewed effort to repair decades of discrimination against Black farmers. Aimed at addressing a history of bias within agriculture, the proposed legislation includes provisions to support a new generation of Black farmers while protecting Black farmers who are at risk of losing their land.

The bill takes aim at the discriminatory practices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which have led to the racial disparities in agriculture that TriplePundit has long reported. Among other things, it would reform discriminatory lending and assistance programs that have led to significant land loss for Black farmers: In the last century, the number of Black farmers has shrunk from 14 percent to 1.4 percent of all U.S. farmers.

The legislation would also provide funding to resolve farmland ownership and succession issues, as well as training, financial, and technical assistance for existing and aspiring Black farmers and ranchers. 

Key provisions would:

  • Establish an independent board to oversee civil rights within the USDA and a Civil Rights Ombudsman to help individuals navigate the process of complaints against discriminatory practices
  • Provide land grants and training to eligible Black farmers
  • Establish a Farm Conservation Corps to help qualified young people aged 18 to 29 from socially disadvantaged groups to pursue careers in agriculture
  • Provide $500 million per year for 10 years to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to conduct agriculture research, offer courses and recruit students
  • Increase funding to protect Black land ownership and provide additional credit assistance 

All of this would go a long way to Leveling the Fields, as a policy brief from the Union of Concerned Scientists described it. What is at stake, proponents of the bill argue, is nothing less than the future of sustainable and resilient food systems. With the number of U.S. farms in steady decline, just when the world is challenged to double food production by 2050, the agriculture industry needs all of the talent it can attract — particularly younger and more diverse generations. 

As Osmanjana Goswami, an interdisciplinary scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, observed: “Beginning farmers face challenges to take up farming, and this is particularly true for farmers from Black, Indigenous, refugee and immigrant populations,” noting that a Farm Conservation Corps, one of the bill’s provisions, would provide a much-need helping hand for those young adults.

Attempts to address past racial discrimination at the USDA have been controversial, with legal battles underway over the USDA’s loan forgiveness program for Black farmers and other farmers of color. In one such case last June, a judge blocked the USDA from repaying Black farmers who had previously qualified for the program. Black and other minority farmers are fighting back, suing the federal government for keeping a promised $4 billion in debt relief in limbo while white farmers take the program to court.

Yet the timing may be favorable — if Booker and Adams can succeed in embedding the bill’s provisions in the 2023 Farm Bill, the twice-a-decade omnibus food and farm policy legislation that is up for renewal this year.

Image credit: paulaphoto/Adobe Stock

Amy Brown headshot

Based in Florida, Amy has covered sustainability for over 25 years, including for TriplePundit, Reuters Sustainable Business and Ethical Corporation Magazine. She also writes sustainability reports and thought leadership for companies. She is the ghostwriter for Sustainability Leadership: A Swedish Approach to Transforming Your Company, Industry and the World. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn and her Substack newsletter focused on gray divorce, caregiving and other cultural topics.

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